Category

Health & Personal

Category

Shannon Lee Miller Falconetti, is an American former artistic gymnast and cancer survivor, whose survival story shows the beauty of focus and positive mindset. The seven-time Olympic medalist stated that lessons she learned while training for gymnastics competitions helped her endure the rigors of treatment for ovarian cancer. “A huge part of my success as an athlete was that I had the mental game. To get through the toughest moments of treatment I relied on goal setting and keeping that positive mentality.”

Shannon Miller was thirty-three (33) years old when she found out she had ovarian cancer. It was in the fall of 2010 and she had almost skipped her regular women’s health exam. She was a nursing mother to a year old Rocco and had recently founded her company, Shannon Miller Lifestyle: Health and Fitness for Women, and just felt too busy with life and work to go for a checkup. But just as she was calling to cancel the appointment, she had a change of heart.

“In her thought, she was working in the health field interviewing physicians for her weekly radio show talking about early detection, and she thought that she is not setting a good example by skipping her checkups.”  So she kept her appointment; a decision that helped her doctor to detect cancer at an early stage.

While conducting a routine pelvic checkup, her doctor found a baseball-sized mass on her ovary that turned out to be an ovarian germ cell tumor, a rare form of ovarian cancer. Shannon Miller later realized she had actually had signs of ovarian cancer; stomach aches, bloating, and weight loss. But because these are also often signs of much less serious problems, she did not think to report them to her doctor.

She had surgery to remove the tumor and then nine (9) weeks of aggressive chemotherapy to give her the best chance of keeping cancer from coming back. The cancer was at the second stage- it was caught before it had spread to other parts of her body.

Challenge of ever having children again

Before her surgery, her doctor did not know what he was going to find. He had an honest conversation with Miller and her husband about whether they wanted to be able to have another child someday. He asked them about how aggressive he should be about removing the mass and preserving her fertility. “We (the couple) knew the Doctor had to be as aggressive as possible. “We needed to do everything we could to make sure our son had a mom.”

But they also talked to the doctor about all their options. After the surgery which removed one ovary and one fallopian tube, they decided to save eggs before she started chemotherapy.

“I did not want to have any regrets. If you bring an umbrella, it will not rain – that was how she thought about it.”  “We decided we will take advantage of every opportunity available; then if we needed to have a plan B, we were prepared.”

A hard walk

Treatment was tough, both physically and emotionally. Miller’s doctor called it the “hit ‘them hard ‘and fast” approach. She would have chemotherapy five (5) days a week for nine (9) weeks, starting about a month after her surgery. She told herself, “I can do anything for nine (9) weeks.”

But by the end of the first week, she had such severe nausea and vomiting, she was unable to keep even water down and was forced to check into the hospital to receive IV fluids. By week two, Miller’s hair fell out and she experienced severe fatigue and neuropathy, a nerve pain, in her hands.

 

 “Her next true moment was with herself and God in that room thinking, ‘How do I do this?’” according to her. “She kept coming back to the realization that she does not have to do this alone. She had faith, and she had her team around her. She reminded herself that she was not the only one going through this.”

Shannon Miller finished her chemo on May 2, 2011. “She thought she was going to have all her energy back, and that her hair would grow back. She expected to feel better,” stated Miller. “But the neuropathy her my hands was so bad, she could not open a bottle of water. She felt like each limb weighed a thousand pounds and she could barely move herself to get out of bed. When she was in Olympic training 7 days a week, she never felt this kind of fatigue.”

She got help from another cancer survivor, her mother, who helped her understand she would feel better – but it would take time.

Shannon is a survivor

She uses whatever voice she had from her Olympic career to encourage women to keep medical appointments, get more sleep, eat right, get and stay fit, and recognize the signs and symptoms of cancer.

Shannon Miller stated that it took about a year before she felt like herself again. She was still extra tired and taking naps right up until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London where she covered gymnastics for the media. Shortly after she returned home from London, she found out she was pregnant with her daughter Sterling who is now three (3) years old.

Today, Miller travels the country telling her cancer story and encouraging women to take care of themselves, “I use whatever voice I have from my Olympic career to encourage women to keep medical appointments, get more sleep, eat right, get and stay fit, and recognize the signs and symptoms of cancer.”

In June 2014, in honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, Shannon Miller spoke at a cancer survivors’ reunion sponsored by the American Cancer Society and Extended Stay America hotels, which donates hotel reservations to cancer patients whose best option for cancer treatment is away from home. “Extended Stay America does so much for those going through a cancer diagnosis. There is so much involved beyond treatment for patients and caregivers.”  She stated that she enjoys the opportunity to speak to survivors. We are all at a different place in our journey, but we can learn something from every story. Learning more and being around other survivors or reading about them is important because it gives you hope. The more we can do to create awareness the better, so we are catching cancer earlier when there are more options for treatment.”

According to her, “The biggest lesson she learned was how much she needed to appreciate every day.”  “No matter where you are in your journey, you can take that day and do your best with it. She used to fly through life. She did not take time to savor it. She was always a go, go, goes, person. Now she understands the importance of really taking time to appreciate every moment.”

Women can beat this deadly disease by taking note of lifestyles or habits that trigger cancer. Health experts always stress the point that one should live healthily by simply doing the basics of healthy living which will go a long way in avoiding cancer.

By Charles Emekpo

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.

The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them. Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body — like your joints or skin — as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells. Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like lupus, affect the whole body.

According to experts in the medical field, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy is a disorder characterized by muscle weakness and wasting (atrophy). This condition gets its name from the muscles that are affected most often: those of the face (facio-), around the shoulder blades (scapulo-), and in the upper arms (humeral). The signs and symptoms of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy usually appear in adolescence.

 

Living with this disease just like with many other terminal diseases comes with huge challenges. In this article, we will be reading about a 34 year-old lady who suffers from this terrible disease together her mother and elder sister. Here is her story:

 

My name is Daniela Chiriac. I am 34 years old, and a member of a family of three, including my mother and my elder sister. All of us are suffering from progressive muscular dystrophy. I was diagnosed with Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy in 2010, after a bad episode at work.

 

Unfortunately, none of us escaped this irreversible illness, but we must go forward and fight until the end. The saddest part of my story is that I was the one who has been taking care of my mother and my sister since I was 14 years old when my father passed away, but now I am unable to look after my family and after myself properly as I did for the past 16 years.

 

I am very much aware that this illness has no cure, but I have struggled to provide a treatment which includes many supplements, both natural and synthetic, which have helped fight the illness by slowing the progression. Fifteen years ago, every doctor told me that my sister and my mother would not live more than five more years, but here we are! My mother is 67 and my sister 47 years old at this time (2014).

 

Over the years, I have approached all the foundations/associations that I could find in Romania which fight against muscular dystrophy of any type. Unfortunately, they did not have the funds to help us. Nevertheless, I kept fighting on my own to provide my mother and my elder sister (who is also like a mother to me), a comfortable life and I tried my best to minimise the emotional and financial discomfort, as long as I was able to work.

 

Complications

 

As a consequence of muscular dystrophy and also non-insulin dependent diabetes, my mother has developed many complications, including:

 

  • Muscular atrophy in legs, arms, and muscles of upper and lower back
  • Difficulties swallowing food and periodontitis
  • Weakening abdominal muscles
  • Weak articulations
  • Loss of balance
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Hypertension
  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy (also as a side-effect of diabetes)
  • Diabetic wounds
  • Major depression
  • Severe pain (the result of nonresponsive muscles, neuropathy, damage to the bone articulations and internal organ atrophy)

 

 

 

My sister struggles with the following:

 

  • Losing muscle strength and function
  • Affected joints
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Cardiac muscle affected
  • Liver disorders
  • Pain and muscles cramps

    She also wears knee orthosis to combat knee extension damage and help her walk

    

 

I have been encountering more of these medical problems myself since 2010, but age is still on my side and I still have the strength to look after myself, to help my mother with her hygiene needs every day, to take care of her wounds, to stay in touch with the family doctor, to bathe my sister and to help her to go out for short walks. I was forced by the situation I am going through to accept medication for depression.

 

Living with a rare disease in Romania

 

Medical treatments for the heart condition, hypertension, diabetes, some medication for stomach disorders, and the treatment for depression I mentioned are covered under legislation for the rights of disabled individuals, meaning by the social security system in Romania. No specific treatment for muscular dystrophy exists or is covered by Romanian legislation based on the fact that there is no cure anywhere for muscular dystrophy. In Romania, muscular dystrophy is considered a kind of “luxury illness” with which you can live “in peace,” waiting for it to put you down sooner or later. There is no association/foundation fighting against muscular dystrophy in Romania with help from the state to achieve their goals (at least according to the information I have). Associations are supported by the authorities in Romania if they are accredited and provide services (based on a call for proposals according to the priorities of the Ministry of Work). In Romania, there are two organisations for muscular dystrophy. The situation is the same for other rare diseases where there is no treatment approved.

 

There are some treatments, taken with the common agreement of the doctors following my family’s case, which gave me hope for a better life and improved the medical condition for my mother and my sister over the years. These include coenzyme Q 10 100mg; vitamin E 100mg; glutathione 500mg; Octapower; diabetes supplements; multivitamins and minerals; omegas 3 & 6; vitamin C 1000mg; calcium 500mg; magnesium; bee pollen; and the pain reliever Uteplex (made only in France) which has been very helpful in alleviating the pain. My mother also needs glucose strips but as she is not insulin dependent these are not covered by the social security insurance. Also, all the special bandages and ointments and creams needed for the diabetic wounds that my mother often develops are paid for with our own income.

 

Our income, for all three of us, is approximately 250 Euro per month, with which we must cover everything, including treatments/supplements/glucose strips, as well as bills and monthly costs for the apartment, consumption (water, gas, electricity, et cetera).

 

I need real help to continue my fight because my strength is very low at this time in my life. I feel that my hands and feet are tied and I can’t make any real movements anymore. This is the reason for which I decided to tell my story because I am powerless.

 

 

 

Source: EURORDIS

By: Eruke Ojuederie

While world women advocate for equal rights for women and the fight against gender violence across regions, a vital part of this discourse has failed to be addressed. Though part of the umbrella name gender violence, acid attacks have remained rampant most especially in developing nations with little or no measures put in place to curb this human atrocity. Of what use will the fight against gender violence be if it does not protect those prone to attacks for speaking their minds on issues of the heart?

Acid attacks are violent assaults aimed at destroying some portions of the victims’ body. In most cases, this comes as a result of a disagreement or as is the case with most women, is the punishment for rejection and turned-down advances – usually sexual. Those who suffer from this attack face a risk of blindness, permanent scars, and sometimes death depending on the degree of the burn. Women with such experiences find it had to face the world because they are grouped among the disadvantaged.

According to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), the majority of acid attack victims are women, and victims are attacked over domestic or land disputes, a rejected marriage proposal or spurned sexual advances.

Statistics show a clear increase in the number of acid attacks in the South Asian country in recent years. At least 106 such attacks were reported in 2012, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI). And that figure rose to 122 in 2013 and 349 in 2014. Activists say that figure climbed to over 500 in 2015.

According to a 2011 report published by the Cornell Law School – Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia have the highest incidences of acid attacks in the world. Reports have it that unlike many other chemical susbstances, acid is easily accessible in these places, and can go for as low as Rs 30 over the counter. Experts have identified this as one of the factors that account for the rising rates of acid attacks in developing countries. A handful of these experts have advocated for a ban on the sale of this harmful product in departmental stores or some form of restriction but given its industrial importance, a ban may not come just yet.

Recently, the tale of Madhu Kashyap an acid attack survivor made the rounds. It showed the strength and unwavery determination she had towards fulfilling her dreams despite her predicament. Just for refusing marriage her face was disfigured at the age of 17. Presently, she manages a café called Sheroes at Agra run by Chhanv Foundation. The café serves as solace for women in the neigbourhood who have suffered from acid attacks as they make up the workforce.

Acid attack victims go through physical, emotional, and psychological challenges from the actual pain attached to the burning sensation felt at the moment of the attack, to the pains which accompany surgery; removing skin from other parts of the body to cover up that which was lost, and becoming the one person people never want to relate with merely because they cannot stand the sight of squeezed skin. This is not to forget the dead threats to family and friends who feel the need to bring the attackers to book. It doesn’t come as a surprise that a good number of acid attack victims make death wishes as they feel this is a better option than the feeling of isolation and dejection which comes as a result of their predicament.

Despite living in a world that has these women scarred emotionally and physically, it is amazing how female acid victims have found themselves again; drawing hope from the minutest things in their immediate environment even as they seek to leave normal lives, engage in regular jobs and activities, and most of all impacting on the lives of not only their kind but other young women who have lost hope after other terrible circumstances.

For Madhu Kashyap, once she got over her fears of public reaction, she got married and began to search for her dream job. Madhu says:“Today, if my attacker confronts me, I will tell him that what he did was to weaken me; but rather than becoming weak I have become stronger and living my life.” She is passionate about design and thinks that joining Vikas Malani’s Body Canvas workshop will help her to follow her passion. Body Canvas is a chain of tattoo studios collaborating with Chhanv by conducting free workshops for the victims.

It is commendable to note that in India acid attack survivors are now given rights under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Following a writ petition by survivor Laxmi Agarwal in 2006, the Supreme Court in July 2013,  passed orders that led to the regulation of sale of acid, compensation for the victims, after care and rehabilitation of the survivors; limited compensation from the government, reservation in educational institutions and easier access to jobs – laws that would have remained rigid for another decade if not for the tenacity of survivors such as Laxmi.

Laxmi was attacked in Delhi’s Khan Market in 2005 by her acquaintances, Guddu and Rakhi. Laxmi was 15 at that time and the act was seen as revenge for Laxmi’s refusal to marry Guddu, her friend’s brother.

 

In 2009, Laxmi took up the challenge to walk outside without covering her face. “This was the biggest challenge, people’s reactions were bad and alienating,” she remembers. While Laxmi’s parents supported her throughout, her friends and relatives cut all communication. Laxmi decided to take the case to court, and the trial went on for four years. While Guddu was sentenced to 10 years in jail, Rakhi was imprisoned for seven years.

In 2013, Laxmi became associated with the acid attack movement; one month after Alok Dixit and Ashish Shukla started the ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign, which culminated in the Chhanv foundation in 2014. They campaigned aggressively and started a discussion around acid violence in the country. Today, Laxmi is the director of the foundation and Alok Dixit is the campaign head.

Also, while women like Laxmi fight for the rights of victims of acid attacks, modern beauty and healthcare therapists uncover new ways to make these women confident again with beauty surgeries. This has helped to give a renewed hope to acid attack victims as they look forward to moving past their grieve and starting up a new life full of zeal.

This brings forth a new lesson for women across regions- one of hope that inspires us to do that which the world thinks is far from us, shattering man-made barriers, and stepping into that feminine glow which every woman is called to embrace.

By: John Naish
Sharyn Mackay and John Pattison belong to an extraordinary club – people told they have terminal cancer only for their tumours to disappear inexplicably, to the astonishment of patient and doctor alike.

It’s tempting to see these stories as medical miracles. But drug companies are hard on the trail of a more rational answer – that the tumours were ‘killed off’ by the patient’s own immune system – and are developing new therapies to harness this power.

Sharyn knew there was something wrong when she began suffering pain in the right side of her stomach in April 2003. She was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour on her kidney, which proved so rare that the doctors at Craigavon Area Hospital in Northern Ireland sent samples of it for examination by specialists in London, Glasgow, and Harvard.

Sharyn Mackay with husband William and daughter Olivia.

 

‘I wasn’t going to let her grow up without a mummy,’ she says

‘They said it was spindle cell sarcoma, which is normally a bone cancer. I was one of only ten known cases where it had become a kidney tumour,’ says Sharyn, a 46-year-old mother of four from Newcastle, Co. Down. ‘The surgeon kept a watch on my kidney. But in April 2004, he told me the cancer had rattled through my kidneys and lungs and I was a terminal case.’

The cancer was inoperable and chemotherapy, even if it worked, would add only a few weeks to Sharyn’s life. ‘The hospital said the treatment was an option, but not a cure, and that I had a year to live, at best.’

Sharyn and her family were devastated. But she felt determined to beat the diagnosis and started to pray. Three months later, something astounding occurred.

‘Further scans to see how the cancer was progressing showed the cancer was gone. The doctors were astonished, and said it could not have been due to anything they’d done.’

Sharyn is convinced that what happened was a miracle. ‘When the doctors said my cancer was terminal, I put my faith into practice and attended a Christian healing ministry.’

Rather than try health regimes such as special diets, she says: ‘The situation was out of my hands and I just believed in the power of prayer. I was absolutely terrified.

‘But I was also convinced that this was not my time. I told my husband, William, I wasn’t going to let my youngest girl, Olivia, who was then eight, grow up without a mummy.

‘Four radiographers studied the scans and none of them could quite believe it. The tumours had gone and I was told to leave the hospital and live a full life. The cancer has never come back and I have never felt better.’

Source: Daily Mail

Sometimes a heart attack is not just a heart attack, but the result of spontaneous tearing in the coronary artery wall.

 

The artery wall has three layers and when a tear occurs, blood is able to pass through the innermost layer and become trapped and bulge inward. This narrows or blocks the artery and can cause a heart attack because blood flow cannot reach the heart muscle.

 

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is an uncommon occurrence, but because it occurs spontaneously, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and get treatment immediately.

Dr. Naesha Parks began her journey with SCAD in 2008, just ten days after giving birth to her son. Her doctors discovered that she had a coronary artery dissection which required open heart surgery. Here’s her amazing story:

 

“If you have a young patient who doesn’t show atherosclerosis in the arteries and has symptoms of a heart attack, then you need to look for SCAD,” said Kathy E. Magliato, a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of Women’s Cardiac Services at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of “Heart Matters.”

 

Researchers aren’t sure what causes SCAD, but patients are often women who are otherwise healthy, with few or no risk factors for heart disease.  Some studies have pointed to a hormonal link, showing a greater incidence among post-partum women and women who are experiencing or close to a menstrual cycle.

 

“Thirty percent of all SCAD patients have recently had a child,” said Dr. Magliato, who is also president of the Greater Los Angeles American Heart Association. “When we see it in men, it’s after extreme exertion, such as isometric exercises.”

 

Recent studies have also shown many SCAD patients also have fibromuscular dysplasia, a condition that causes abnormal cell growth in the arteries that can cause narrowing, beading or tearing in the artery walls, or an aneurysm.

 

SCAD is difficult to diagnose before it causes a heart attack because it doesn’t have any warning signs. And although it can cause a life-threatening heart attack, SCAD patients don’t typically have other heart disease risk factors.

 

That’s why recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack is so crucial for SCAD patients.  Warning signs may include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, profuse sweating and dizziness.

 

“Around 80 percent of the time, we see this disease in fairly young, healthy and active patients,” Dr. Magliato said. “Seek immediate treatment if you think you’re having a heart attack. ”

 

Treatment for SCAD patients differs from other heart attack patients, who may require a procedure to insert a stent to hold the artery open or bypass surgery. For SCAD patients, more conservative therapy that emphasizes blood pressure control and medication can have better results, Dr. Magliato said.

 

“When you put a stent in a SCAD patient, there’s a higher risk of complications and a lower success rate,” Dr. Magliato said.

 

Doctors may be able to recognize the signs of SCAD using an angiogram, but an intravascular ultrasound or optical coherence tomography screening, which allows doctors to see the artery from the inside out, is needed to make a definitive diagnosis, Dr. Magliato said.

 

SCAD patients have a high risk of recurrence and should let their doctor know about any changes to their health. They should also make sure they are reducing any other risks they may have for heart diseases, such as high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol.

 

“The bottom line is that any type of chest pain is abnormal,” Dr. Magliato said. “If you’re a young healthy woman and you have chest pain, you need to get medical attention.”

 

Source: www.heart.org

Image: Mayo Clinic

Medical practitioners have often said that the healing process begins from the will to be healed. Over the years, it has been observed that a good number of people who choose to fight their way through a deadly disease often triumph to the amazement of the doctors, family, and friends.

In today’s article, we will be taking a look at the inspiring story of Samantha Bennett as narrated by Christina Heiser in her article “What It’s Like to Survive a Deadly Disease”.

When Samantha Bennett was a baby, doctors told her mom she would never be able to walk or write. At just nine months old, Samantha had contracted bacterial meningitis, a rare (and sometimes fatal) disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. Samantha survived—but her body was covered in scars, her face was damaged, and she had to have half of her right foot and a few of her fingers amputated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 4,100 cases of meningitis in the U.S. every year. While anyone can get it, young adults, infants, and those living in highly crowded spaces, like a college dorm, are, particularly at risk. The disease, which is contagious, is spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions during close contact (so from kissing or being coughed on, for example). The bacteria can’t live outside the body for very long, though, so it’s not as easily spread as something like the common cold. That being said, meningitis strikes fast and devastatingly—it can lead to everything from hearing loss to brain damage. And oftentimes, the symptoms, which include high fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, are mistaken for the flu.

Samantha defied the odds and never let her health issues stemming from meningitis stop her from pursuing her dreams. Now 41 years old, the Columbus, Ohio, resident and married mom of two young boys is a successful painter and passionate activist. Because of her efforts to raise awareness about the disease, she’s receiving an award from the National Meningitis Association (NMA) at the organization’s New York City gala on April 27, 2015.

“One day, my mom noticed that I had a fever that wouldn’t break,” says Samantha. “She went to work for an hour, and when she came back, my grandparents—who were watching me—said I didn’t look good. They took me to the hospital, and within hours, doctors were fighting for my life.”

Over the years, Samantha has had approximately 30 surgeries. In college, she had major work done on her nose and face (at one point, her nostril holes had closed together). More recently, she’s had reconstructive surgery on her legs using a fat-grafting technique where fat tissue was taken from one area of her body via liposuction, processed into liquid, and injected into her legs. Prior to that surgery, Samantha says she could barely walk. “My legs felt like a brick wall,” she says. “They were so tight—it felt like I had concrete blocks on my legs. I couldn’t walk for very long. It was extremely painful, and I couldn’t bend my legs very well.” Now, she says she tries to walk 10,000 steps a day. In June, Samantha will undergo another surgery to remove an eight-inch scar from one of her legs.

From a young age, Samantha showed an interest in painting, and so she began taking art lessons when she was 7 years old. She also studied art in college. “My parents were really excited,” she says. “I couldn’t do sports, so my mom encouraged me [to do art].”

samantha-bennett-3_0

It wasn’t until she experienced a heartbreaking loss, though, that art began to play a bigger role in her life. When she was 30, she gave birth to a son who died two days later, and Samantha used painting as a way to cope with the tragedy. While she was pregnant and on bed rest in the hospital, she noticed that some patients’ doors had butterflies on them. A nurse told her that the butterflies signaled that those patients had a lost a baby.

Samantha drew a lot during this hospital stay, and once she returned home, she started painting portraits of women who had been affected by infant loss and miscarriage, working a butterfly into each painting. “I’ve taught myself how to heal through art,” she says. She then started getting requests for portraits from parents who had lost older and adult children. “I don’t know that I’ve ever handled sadness and grieving very well,” she says. “I always cry [when I paint these portraits]. I don’t even know the families very well, but they’re emotional stories.” Samantha creates about 100 paintings a year (and dog portraits are one of the most popular requests she gets). You can view her artwork at paintersam.com.

The president of the NMA, Lynn Bozof, contacted Samantha seven years ago after reading about her and her butterfly portraits in a local newspaper. Since then, Samantha has continued to stay involved with the organization. On April 16, she spoke in front of the Ohio state Senate to urge lawmakers to pass a bill that would require Ohio students to be immunized against meningitis (the vaccine is available for anyone six weeks old and up). In the past, she’s also met with John Kasick, the governor of Ohio, and spoken at the CDC. She also uses her artwork as a way to raise awareness. “You never know where life is going to take you,” she says. “It’s crazy that these butterfly paintings I had created reached such an audience. I’ve really tried to use my artwork as a platform to encourage women and at the same time to encourage families to vaccinate their kids.”

Through both her artwork and her work as an activist, Samantha has grown to be an amazingly confident woman and has been an inspiration to others. Once, for example, she appeared on the TLC reality TV show NY Ink in 2011 (she got a tattoo of a woman inside a butterfly over scars on her arm). Later, a stranger recognized her and approached her to tell her how much her story meant to her. “One lady came up to me at a festival and said, ‘I just want to tell you that you rock and I love you,’” says Samantha. “Her daughter was burned and scarred from head to toe [in a fire], and she said she saw my story and felt so inspired.”